MILWAUKEE — LeBron James moved past Magic Johnson on the NBA’s all-time assists list while wearing a Los Angeles Lakers uniform Friday, but he knows his place in the pecking order when it comes to Laker lore.
“To know that I’m in the conversation or about to get to a point that I’m breaking a record that he set for this franchise — and I’m not comparing myself to Magic with this franchise, what he did, sheesh.
“Him, [James] Worthy, Kobe [Bryant], Shaq [O’Neal], those guys are synonymous with this franchise. But it’s just pretty cool, always, when I’m able to see my name with some of the greats that have played this game,” James told ESPN this week when asked about the accomplishment he was approaching.
It was the 10,142nd assist of his career, taking over Johnson’s perch as No. 6 on the all-time list. The only players ahead of James are ESPN analyst Mark Jackson (10,334); Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash (10,335); Phoenix Suns point guard, and James’ close friend, Chris Paul (11,071); Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd (12,091); and Utah Jazz great John Stockton (15,806).
James said that being associated with Johnson — long considered one of the game’s flashiest passers — in an assist category is special.
“Listen, when you talk about just one-name guys when you’re talking about sports, you got Ali, Jordan, Magic. Bird,” James told ESPN. “Those names are just synonymous with sports. Montana. Like, you know who we’re talking about.”
Johnson served as president of basketball operations for the Lakers when James signed with the team as a free agent in the summer of 2018. After a difficult 2018-19 season, in which the Lakers finished 10th in the Western Conference despite adding James to a group of young talent, Johnson abruptly resigned before the season finale.
James, on his barbershop-themed talk show, “The Shop,” later revealed how Johnson’s decision caught him off guard.
“It was just weird for him to just be like, ‘I’m out of here’ and not even have no like, ‘Hey Bron, kiss my a–. I’m out of here,'” James said on his show in May, 2019. “I would’ve been OK with that. ‘Hey Bron, it’s Magic. Kiss my a–, I’m gone.’ Not even that.”
Johnson looked back at his Lakers exit as a guest on Shannon Sharpe’s show, “Club Shay Shay,” in October.
“I regret not calling LeBron to tell him I was stepping down,” Johnson said. “I really regretted that. I owed him that.”
Johnson, through a representative, declined an interview request for this story. James had no comment when asked by ESPN about the current state of his and Johnson’s relationship. Lakers owner Jeanie Buss also declined an interview request for this story, through a representative.
Johnson became the league’s all-time assists leader on April 15, 1991, passing Oscar Robertson’s leading mark at the time with his 9,888th career assist. Johnson did it in spectacular fashion — dishing out 19 assists on the record-smashing night in a win over the Dallas Mavericks. He held the record for nearly four years before Stockton passed him with his 9,922nd assist, appropriately, on a feed to Karl Malone.
James told ESPN that he learned the power of being a pass-first player from his very start in the sport.
“At the end of the day this is a team game,” James said. “I’ve always been brought up that way. Teams win. That’s how you have to play and guys have to feel comfortable, guys have to feel like they’re a part of something. So, when I was taught that way, I won my first year ever playing organized basketball. My second year, I won the championship my second year. And as I continued to grow, in AAU we won tournaments. And I got into high school, we won.
“So, I knew what it was. It was about guys coming together and playing together and playing for the cause of each other and not the individual.”